The Bombay high court (HC) on Monday said that civic authorities across Maharashtra will have to initiate criminal action against local office bearers of political parties putting up illegal hoardings in case the name of the specific offender is missing from it.
A division bench of justice AS Oka and justice GS Kulkarni was hearing a PIL filed by Suswarajya Foundation on illegal banners in the state.
The court issued its direction following a submission made by Narayan Bubna, counsel for three civic bodies, who said it was difficult to initiate action if an illegal banner with just a photo of the prime minister or chief minister was put up.
"If the name of the political party is there the local office bearers will have to be prosecuted," the bench warned.
The BJP, MNS and NCP had previously submitted undertakings in the court that they would direct their workers to refrain from putting up illegal materials. "You figure in every chart of illegal hoardings," the court told the BJP counsel, after perusing the affidavit of the Amravati civic body.
Nikhil Sakhardande, the BJP counsel, responded saying they had instructed their workers and would issue a fresh circular.
The court also asked why FIRs were not being registered if people were making complaints about illegal installations. "If a complaint is made, why is an FIR not registered," the court asked. "Defacement is a cognisable offence. Unless you start taking action under the defacement act, nothing will happen."
Several municipal corporations submitted their compliance affidavits; however the court noted that in many cases corporations had not fully complied with earlier orders.
The court had earlier directed setting up of toll-free numbers for complaints, citizens' committees to check on the menace, appointing nodal officers, and other things. "Formation of citizens' committees is the most important part of the order," said the court.
"If a citizen finds his complaint on toll free number has not been considered by officers, he or she can approach the nodal officers," the judges added.
The court agreed that things couldn't be in place immediately. "We know that change can't happen overnight," the court said while granting the corporations time until December 5 to file additional affidavits showing compliance.
"Except Mumbai, Pune and Akola, no other corporation has made substantial compliance," said the order. "…If municipal authorities do not make substantial compliance, the question of initiating appropriate action will be considered."
The court had also ordered that all civic bodies should have a toll-free number to enable people to register complaints against illegal hoardings.
"If a citizen finds his complaint on toll free number has not been considered by officers, he or she can approach the nodal officers," the judges said.
The matter will next be heard on December 15.
Total illegal banners/hoardings/arches removed by BMC:
(Nearly 60% of the removals were of religious/ social material, while 14% was political in nature.)
* 173 complaints made to relevant police stations between August and October. Seven FIRs filed over the same period
* BMC's toll free number is 1916 on which citizens can register their complaints. They have also started two other numbers following court orders: 1292 and 1293.
* For all 24 wards within its jurisdiction, the corporation has also set up ward-level citizens' committees to help check on the menace
* The Navi Mumbai corporation has similarly removed 1,025 illegal installations between September 30 and October 29, according to their affidavit.
* Mira Bhayander corporation has removed 542 illegal materials